By Adriana Maldonado, 22nd September 2016
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit “Yuj” that means yoke or bind. Perhaps one of the most simple but most useful definitions of Yoga is found in the second Sutra of the Yoga Sutras, a couple of thousand years old text in Sanskrit, written by Patañjali, considered one of the most important texts about yoga:
“Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah” Having been several times translated and interpreted, a recognised translation comes from Sri Swami Satchidananda: “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.”, and from T.K.V. Desikachar: “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions”
Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras is a collection of 196 statements that have been a guidebook for yoga as a discipline and philosophy. The sutras outline eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). This latter, samadhi, is considered as the goal, liberation or enlightenment.
It is the third limb, asana, which has been the most developed by the western world. Originally, asanas or postures had been designed to purify the body and to provide physical strength in order to be able to meditate for long periods.
Yoga has evolved hugely since Patañjali wrote the Sutras and it has been taken to different paths. New techniques, that involve both the exercise of the body and the mind, have been developed around it. Nowadays Hatha Yoga is considered a type of yoga. Hatha Yoga is that area of yoga that concentrates mainly in the asanas, breathing and meditation. Swami Satyananda Saraswati in an introduction to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions: “In order to purify the mind, it is necessary for the body as a whole to undergo a process of absolute purification. Hatha Yoga is also known as the science of purification…The main objective of Hatha Yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. When this balance is created, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to the central force, sushumna nadi (a channel of energy), which is responsible for the evolution of human consciousness. If Hatha Yoga is not used for this purpose, its true objective is lost.”
And finally, perhaps more immediately helpful for our day to day lives, Cyndi Lee at Yoga Journal writes: “Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures…Even within the physical practice, yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognise our habitual thought patterns without labelling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.”
Starting a yoga practice can really have an incredibly positive effect of people’s lives; like B.K.S. Iyengar says “Yoga is light, which once lit, will never dim. The better you practice, the brighter the flame.”